Sunderland manager Lee Johnson says he won’t be judging the performances of defender Abenit Xhemajli until January, as he continues his recovery from injury.
Xhemajli joined Sunderland from Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax last summer, but made just one senior appearance for the club before suffering a knee ligament injury while on international duty with Kosovo.
The 23-year-old has not played since, and it seems as though Johnson believes it could be several months yet until he is able to considered of producing his peak performances.
However, it seems that may not mean that we do not see Xhemajli in action for the Blacks Cats before that point.
Providing an update on Xhemajli’s situation, Johnson told The Chronicle: “I don’t think we can judge Arby until January.
“That’s how long I think he needs to be truly judged. That’s not saying he won’t get games before then, whether it’s with the U23s or with us, because he might.
“But it was a big, big injury. He’s done ever so well because maintaining the focus and discipline required when he’s away from home, isolated solely really with the physios.”
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Indeed, it seems Xhemajli is progressing well in his recovery, and Johnson is still optimistic about the defender’s long-term prospects, with the Sunderland boss adding: “It’s great to see him on the grass, running in straight lines. Often with these knee injuries they’re so complex, it’s almost like you clear one area up and then get a pain in another.
“What I would say is he’s on a really nice trajectory, and he’s a very good professional.
“I’m very confident that everything we’re doing and everything he’s doing is going to enable him to have a very long career.”
Xhemajli signed a two-year deal with Sunderland last summer, meaning he is now entering the final year of his contract at The Stadium of Light.
This may be something of a mixed update from a Sunderland perspective.
On the one hand, the fact it could still be several months before Xhemajli is up to his top level is likely to be frustrating for all involved, especially with the injury problems Sunderland endured in defence last season.
Indeed, that may be something of a concern for Xhemajli, since it doesn’t give him a great deal of time to impress and earn a new deal while at full fitness, before his current contract expires next summer.
However, it does still seem as though the defender has impressed Johnson with his progress, which bodes well for both the impact he can make when he returns, and his chances of convincing the club to offer him a new deal based on his work rate and attitude.